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New evidence pushes back by 30k years 1st use of fire in India | India News

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NEW DELHI: It razed the forests they lived in, scared animals away and “changed” objects that came in contact. But the moment at which humans were able to control fire — start one, keep it going and use it — is one that evolutionary scientists identify as the one great spark of human intelligence. About 80 km from Prayagraj, in the Belan river valley, scientists have found evidence of that point in India, pushing back the first known controlled use of fire here by 30,000 years.
“Before this, the first reported use of fire in the Indian subcontinent was from 18,000-20,000 years ago. Hearths were found in the same valley, considered the first direct evidence of human use of fire,” Prasanta Sanyal, co-author of the paper being published in Elsevier journal ‘Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology’, told TOI on Tuesday.
For this study, scientists from IISER-Kolkata looked at macrocharcoal (larger than 125 micron) from six archaeological sites in the valley — Deoghat, Koldihwa, Mahagara, Chillahia, Chopani-Mando and Main Belan. They found charcoal from buried soils, which were dated 50,000 years old. But that did not necessarily imply they were the result of human activity.
“You can get charcoal from two sources — forest fires and human-made fires. Say, there was a forest fire in the Himalayas. It could have produced this charcoal, which was transported and deposited,” said Sanyal. “But we found that the internal structure of these charcoal samples was still well-preserved, which could not have happened had they been transported.” Then, there was the topography. The paper says the “gentle slope of the Belan valley and its small catchment area make long distance transportation unlikely.”
Then, they reconstructed the climate patterns for the last 100,000 years. It turned out that the period the charcoal samples date back to was one of very high rainfall. “Besides, the vegetation was characterised by trees. Both factors are not very conducive to forest fires. You can have a natural forest fire only in dry and arid conditions,” Sanyal explained. “We concluded that the charcoal in these archaeological sites came from human use of fire.”
Which means the human brain was developed enough to control fire.“This is the time that the cognitive abilities of prehistoric humans developed. This coincided with the period when they started creating different types of tools,” Deepak Kumar Jha, lead author, told TOI.
Once acquired, this knowledge — how to harness fire — was one that was transferred. “The use of fire was persistent from Middle Palaeolithic to Neolithic (from 55,000 to 3,000 years ago) … from the earlier prehistoric populations to the later farming communities,” the paper says.
This is now the 13th oldest evidence of the use of fire in the world. The oldest is from 1.6 million years ago, at Koobi Fora in Kenya. Sanyal said, “If you see China, human-controlled fire has been discovered from 400,000 years ago. Why this gap? Maybe we have not studied Indian sites enough,”.

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